Chineses Lantern Plants: Planting, Growing, and Harvesting

Chinese Lanterns [Physalis alkekengi] closely resemble their cousins Tomatilloes, Cape gooseberry, and Ground Cherries, however, unlike their cousins they are not edible and slightly toxic. Their value lies in their novel aesthetic appeal. The Blaise white spring flowers are a tad purdy although not incredibly so, the burnt orange seed pods which encase the fruit is where it’s value and name is drawn from. The pods are commonly used in dried flower arrangements and sometimes fall decor.

They are not indigenous to China but are believed to have come from southeastern Europe, some sources say Japan. It’s called ‘Chinese Lantern’ because of its resemblance to actual Chinese Lanterns.

Growing Chinese lanterns is not unlike growing tomatoes or tomatillos. They are cold hardy in zones 3 to 9.

Starting plants from seeds can be a challenge, they have a poor germination rate and a fairly long germination period. Expect a high failure rate, so naturally you’ll need to plant more than you actually want. Transplants are another option. Unlike most other plants that you are probably familiar with Chinese lantern seeds are sewn by plaving them on the soils surface, they need light to germinate.

Start seeds indoors in early spring, or even late winter to get a head start, in the ball park of 3 weeks sometimes a bit longer before they emerge [ 20 to 25 days]. They also need fairly warm temperatures to germinate, no lower than 70 degrees Farenheit or 20 Degrees C.

When your plants have reached a sufficient stature, the outside temperatures have sufficiently warmed, and your regions last anticipated frost date is in the rearview mirror, transplant your seedlings outdoors.

A location with full sun is best, but they will tolerate partial light shade. They will not grow in clay soils, soil should be well drained. They are also not drought tolerant and require constant moisture, don’t drown them just keep the soil surface reasonably moist. A layer of organic mulch will help to retain the soil moisture at satisfactory levels.

They are subject to a numer of basterial and fungal issues, maintaining an adeqaute seperation [2.5 to 3 feet] between plants will help to curtail this. 

Don’t fertilize prior to flowering so long as your soil is reasonably fertile and with the proper Soil pH range [6.0 to 7.5]

Don’t fertilize prior to flowering so long as your soil is reasonably fertile and with the proper pH range.

Don’t over fertilize after flowering, a balanced general use fertilizer in modest amounts will suffice.

If the plants become spindly, disproportionately tall with scant foliage after flowering, you can cut them back to iniate a fresh start. Cut the plants back within a few inches of the soil surface in late fall, they are perennials and will come back in the spring.

When Planting Chinese Lanterns, keep in mind that once established they have a bad reputaton, they are highly invasive and will spread via their roots, or due to seeds from unharvested pods. They are also poisonous to livestock, pets, small children, and big ones too.

When the pods have morphed from green to their hallmark reddish-orange color, it is harvest time. Cut the plant off slightly above ground level, strip the leaves and hang the entire plant upside down in a dry location. Drying will take 2 to 3 weeks.